Gaming on your desktop is arguably one of the most enjoyable experiences. However throwing in the best WiFi adapter for gaming can help you take that experience to the next level – follow along as we take a closer look at your top 5 options on the market in 2020.
Let’s face it, desktop gaming is orthodox, enjoyable, and highly versatile if you want to enjoy the experience that top-of-the-line hardware can put out. However, whether you’re part of the “PC master race” club or simply someone that likes to spelunk into the occasional gaming foray – there’s one major hurdle that desktop gamers struggle to overcome.
Yup, we’re talking about WiFi connectivity!
While there are some gaming motherboards coming out these days with built-in wireless capabilities, most gamers are left dry and stranded in that department, despite all the crazy tech we’re seeing come out in recent years.
Thankfully, that’s where wireless adapters for gaming come in to save the day.
However, just as with most gaming hardware and peripherals – not every WiFi adapter is purpose-tailored for your gaming needs. And that’s why we’ve done our research to present you with the only 5 options that you should consider in 2020 if you want a fun and seamless wireless gaming experience on your PC.
Let’s dive right in!
What Are Wi-Fi Adapters & How Do They Work?
First and foremost, before we delve into the best WiFi adapters geared towards gaming that money can buy in today’s day and age – let’s get a good feel for what they are in the first place.
WiFi adapters typically come in the form of a small USB dongle or a PCI-E card that you can plug into your computer in order for your computer to be able to connect to wireless networks, replacing your corded Ethernet connection.
But, do they work as well as an Ethernet connection on a desktop computer?
Where a few years ago, that question might have certainly whipped up quite the argument among tech enthusiasts – in today’s world, the answer is simple – yes!
Today’s WiFi adapters, especially the ones that are purpose-built for gaming offer lightning-quick connectivity and a totally seamless connection, allowing you to replace the jungle of cords you’d commonly see running into your gaming rig, without compromising the enjoyability of your gaming experience.
Our Top 5 WiFi Adapters For Gaming Reviewed
Now that we’ve gotten up close and personal with the idea of adapters, let’s take a foray into the top options that the market’s got to offer in today’s day and age.
All of the products that we feature in this article are independently tested & chosen by our editors. FragMeta may receive a commission on any products you buy through the links in this article.
Below, I’ll be reviewing each pick in-detail to give you the low-down on the biggest pros and cons about each option, as well as introduce you to a few different winners in each given purpose-category of adapters available.
1. NETGEAR Nighthawk AC1900 – The Best Gaming USB Wi-Fi Adapter
Much like with BlueTooth adapters for gaming – USB Wi-Fi adapters offer the convenience of total portability, and a very simple plug and play setup, often without missing out on any of the latest tech either.
If you’re looking for a super simple solution that features absolutely stellar capabilities and fantastic bandwidth capacity for gaming – the Nighthawk AC1900 by NETGEAR is the first (and possibly only) option that you should look at.
This WiFi adapter features speeds of up to 600 Mbps on a 2.4 GHz connection or a whopping 1,300 Mbps on a 5 GHz channel. In addition to this, the AC1900 is compatible with just about any router and 802.11ac network on the planet – offering high speeds that can even surpass a corded connection in some cases.
Tech specs aside, this wireless adapter features one of the best solid magnetic cradles that helps you lock the NETGEAR Nighthawk AC1900 in place and prevent accidental knockouts, as well as an intelligent 3×4 MIMO design with 3 separate spatial streams allowing you to have several devices interloped for seamless file transfer without any bandwidth blockage or lag. Another great point in this unit’s favor lies in the fact that it ships with a comprehensive mobile app (NETGEAR Genie), which allows you to control and monitor your connection from any mobile device.
However, as with all great things – there are reportedly some drawbacks. On the web, some owners of this adapter have been complaining that the build quality isn’t exactly rock solid. From flimsy fitment to out-of-the-box durability issues, or the unit being accident-prone thanks to its antennas – it’s important to remember that at the end of the day, this is an external peripheral and as such, it’s not quite as shielded as any of its PCI-E counterparts would be.
2. ASUS AC3100 / PCE-AC88 – The Best PCI-E Adapter For Gaming
Let’s say that the USB dongle life isn’t exactly “up your alley” or maybe you just want something a little more durable and sturdy, without sacrificing any of the performance that the AC1900 has to offer.
Well, dear reader, in that case – the ASUS PCE-AC88 (also known as the AC3100) is probably your best bet in the PCI-E adapter category!
This adapter features 4 dedicated high power external antennas allowing it to provide a stellar range with blazing-fast speeds and relay capabilities, allowing it to function as a full-fledged extender without becoming a bottleneck.
One thing that I’m personally very impressed by when it comes to the AC3100 is the fact that they’ve worked in a very impressive heatsink, paving the way for this adapter to be rated as one of the coolest-running in 2020. And while your wireless card running hot may not seem like a big deal, keeping it nice and cool seriously helps you get way better speeds to your desktop computer.
Getting back to the performance tech, we’ve got a dual-band wireless adapter chipset with the 5 GHz band clocking 2,100 Mbps and the 2.4 GHz band 1,000 Mbps of throughput respectively. Couple this with a whole host of creature comforts like magnetic antennas and the support for custom hardware tweaks, and you’ve got one hell of a WiFi adapter on your hands. One that’s well worth the serious price tag too!
3. TRENDnet AC1900 TEW-809UB – Best USB Adapter For Coverage
While the NETGEAR Nighthawk AC1900 certainly makes one hell of a case for itself as a runner up for the title of best wifi adapter for gaming, at least in the USB Wi-Fi adapters category – it relies on implicit antennas (internal) for its connectivity, making it a little “limited” per se.
On the other hand, the TRENDnet TEW-809UB offers a compatible technological offering, with improved coverage thanks to its 4 detachable external antennas with MU-MIMO and beamforming technology built-in.
This wireless adapter offers some very reliable dual-band wireless speeds. With the 5 GHz band boasting a throughput of 1,300 Mbps, and its 2.4 GHz counterpart clocking a solid 600 Mbps. Overtop of this, thanks to the fact that the TEW-809UB employs beamforming – this adapter is one of the best on the market for UHD video streaming (4K+ resolution, ultra HD quality). And that’s certainly not an easy commendation to come by!
In the aesthetics department, this USB adapter honestly looks more like a dedicated router of its own. And despite seeming a tad bulky at first, it’s actually compact and fits great with just about any sort of setup that you may have going on.
All in all, if you’re looking for something a little more serious than the Nighthawk AC1900, and are willing to spend a bit more on it too – this may just be the best option for you.
4. Linksys WUSB6300 – The Best Budget Option
It’s cool to have all the latest tech at your fingertips – but realistically, that’s just not an option for some of us. Whether you’re not keen to spend a fortune on a USB wifi adapter to fuel your virtual adventuring, or simply don’t need anything that advanced, sometimes taking the budget route may just be the best idea.
When it comes to offering stellar connectivity, great speeds, and a reliable stream, at a bargain price – the Linksys WUSB6300 is hard to beat!
Clocking in at the size of a flash drive, this micro-sized USB port adapter offers AC1200 wireless capabilities through an incredibly simple plug and play approach. In terms of speeds, this little external wireless card in a thumb drive boasts a rather impressive 860 Mbps on a 5 GHz band, and around 300 Mbps on 2.4GHz. It also features MU-MIMO and Beamforming tech, making it quite powerful and capable of bearing the intensive network load that comes with serious gaming without any sort of bottleneck or lag.
The only potential drawback to going with this adapter is the fact that the range isn’t the best, and it lacks a lot of the high-tech packed into more advanced options we’ve covered. However, at a price below $50, it’s a seriously hard to beat bargain!
5. TP-Link Archer T3U Plus – The Best Cheap / Starter Option
The WUSB6300 (covered above) does an absolutely stellar job in the sub-$50 category. However, some people’s budgets might just run a bit tighter. If you fall into that category – don’t stress. We’ve got just the option for you!
The TP-Link Archer T3U Plus offers pretty comparable tech to the WUSB6300 – dual-band connectivity, MU-MIMO beamforming, and a set of fantastic high gain antennas. However, it really differs in two main areas – the price, and the protocol it employs.
With this TP-Link adapter, you’ll be running an AC1300 connection, which is a decent step over it’s AC1200 predecessors. On a 5 GHz stream, you’ll be seeing 867 Mbps, while on the 2.4GHz end of the equation you’ll get around 400 Mbps. And when you consider that this plug and play USB WiFi adapter for gaming runs just under $30, that’s definitely nothing to scoff at.
What Features Make A Good Wireless Adapter
Not all wireless adapters are built equal. From differences in shape and size to huge functional gaps – there are lots of aspects and features to cover. But, which of the features you’d come to find with most models on the market today really make a good wireless adapter for gaming?
Form Factor / Type
Wi-Fi adapters come in all shapes and sizes these days. However, in terms of types (otherwise known as the form factor), you’ve really only got two key options. You’ve got the convenient USB adapter and its more hardcore and somewhat more effective PCI-E counterpart.
In addition to this, both types of adapters may also feature an antenna extender, which stretches out from the device itself to provide more extensive coverage and better signal strength through the use of multiple antennae.
The Protocol / Speed
Most of the time, whether in the title or in the description of an adapter, you’ll find a rating like AC1200, AC1900, or even AC3100. But what does this actually mean?
Well, for starters, the AC denotes that the adapter runs over the commonplace 802.11AC protocol. At the same time, the number following it is the theoretical “maximum speed” that this device supports between all of its bands.
Range / Coverage
Let’s face it – having one of the fastest adapters in the world wouldn’t make any difference if it could only cast over a meter or two. Thankfully, most of the candidates that we’ve reviewed today actually offer absolutely amazing ranges. With some even going as far as to act like extenders, helping amplify the signal for other devices on the network.
MU-MIMO & Beamforming
MU-MIMO(otherwise known as multiple user, multiple input, multiple output) is a wireless technology that helps improve the performance of a network where several devices are actively using data simultaneously. In a nutshell, it allows you to stream things to several different computers, phones, or other network-enabled devices all at once, without having to slow down the exchange of data to make room for each one individually.
On the other hand, built overtop of MU-MIMO Beamforming technology allows us to focus the wireless signal by creating a beam of direct energy between connected devices rather than pumping out wave after wave of an unfocused signal which is just a waste of resources.
In addition to this, some newer adapters also offer something called implicit beamforming. This builds on the principles of the revolutionary new approach to connectivity and helps back-track it to devices that don’t have the technology accessible to them, allowing them to enjoy the same benefits as if they did.
How Did We Test These Wi-Fi Adapters?
We hooked up each of the Wi-Fi adapters in this article to a desktop computer running NetPerf software in order to track the throughput and performance of each candidate across three distances.
The three distances we measured were:
- Nearby (3 meters) – in visible sight of the router.
- Mid-Range (9 meters) – separated from the router by a floor and/or several walls.
- Fringe (20 meters) – across the entire house from the router, with multiple stories or walls of separation.
The router used for the tests that we ran with the setup was an UniFi Dream Machine.
Gaming WiFi Adapter F.A.Q.
Whether you’re just looking for a plug and play wireless adapter or a full-fledged one-stop networking solution, the world of WiFi adapters has got lots of ins and outs that can make deciding between any particular model and its counterpart a significant challenge.
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions that we get from readers on the topic of WiFi adapters, how they impact gaming, and what sort of features you should be on the lookout for.
Are WiFi Dongles Good For Gaming?
While some people might be worried about USB Wi-Fi adapters impacting their online gaming experience negatively – that’s all totally baseless. Wireless adapters that run over USB connectivity rather than a hardware hookup like a PCI-E don’t necessarily prove to be any sort of a bottleneck.
In fact, in most situations, they’ll offer the same tech like MU-MIMO, and high power connectivity over the latest protocols like AC1900 or AC3100 to offer serious speeds on both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands.
However, having them run over the latest USB port technology is also pretty important. For example, you’ll get way better speeds over USB 3.0 rather than USB 2.0, which ultimately translates to a more high-quality experience – especially on operating systems like Windows 8 and Windows 10.
Does It Matter What WiFi Adapter I Get?
When it comes to picking out the best wireless adapter for your gaming PC, there’s definitely a world of difference between the typical single band USB WiFi adapter that you can pick up for $5 and a proper purpose-built unit such as the ones we’ve covered today.
Take a quick peek at our roundup of the most important features that make or break a good wireless adapter in the features section above.
As a short recap – you’ll want to pick up an adapter that offers a form factor compatible with your PC and operating system, while also boasting good speeds over a higher AC-rating and good coverage with MU-MIMO and beamforming support. Personally, I recommend that you look at AC1900+ options for the best performance, but it depends entirely on the speeds your network offers in the first place. For some folks, an AC1200 unit may just be enough.
What Is A Good Speed For A WiFi Adapter?
When it comes to figuring out a good range of speeds that your Wi-Fi adapter should be able to support, everything starts with your network and routing setup. After all, if you’re only getting 25 Mbps from your ISP (internet service provider), then it may be overkill to cash out on an AC3100 adapter as you’re not even scratching at the surface of its capabilities.
Realistically, for most modern games, anything over 50 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload will do the job quite well, given that it’s a seamless and uninterrupted connection.
Now that stability is where your routing comes into play. Issues like packet loss, a jumpy connection, or poor signal can absolutely ruin your entire gaming experience in a heartbeat.
Does The Motherboard Matter?
When it comes to making sure your brand new Wi-Fi adapter offers blazing speeds and impeccable dual-band wireless performance – unfortunately sometimes, the bottleneck comes from your motherboard n the first place.
Now, if you’re looking for a gaming Wi-Fi adapter, I’m assuming that you’ve opted for one of the best gaming motherboards already. In this case, more likely than not, your motherboard is already set and ready for high-speed connectivity.
However, if you’re playing on some older equipment, some due diligence may be needed to ensure the compatibility between your gear and the Wi-Fi adapter you’re thinking of buying.
Which Wi-Fi Adapter Should You Get For Gaming – Our Recommendation
Now that we’ve covered the ins and outs of each of our top 5 candidates, discussed the makings of a good Wi-Fi adapter, and covered some of the biggest questions people have about these handy little pieces of hardware – let’s get back to the main question at hand.
Which of these gaming-oriented Wi-Fi adapters is going to be the one for you?
At the end of the day, the answer to this question really depends entirely on your setup and needs. However, my personal recommendation is going to be ASUS PCE-AC88, since it delivers the best connectivity, the latest tech, and ultimately the best bang for your buck compared to all the other options.
I hope that you’ve found this guide useful in helping you decided on which adapter you’re after. And if you have any questions or information to add to this article, feel free to leave a comment below.
Happy (lag-free) gaming!